Midas Touch: Supreme Court Spokesperson Midas P. Marquez

My duty, first and foremost, is to protect and defend the institution, the Supreme Court.


January 29, 2011, 7:16pm


PAPER TRAIL — Supreme Court spokesperson and court administrator Midas Marquez is often awash with court documents needing his attention. Photo by PINGGOT ZULUETA

MANILA,Philippines— It’s tough being Jose Midas Marquez.

Apart from having to face a battalion of persistent reporters daily, and defend controversial decisions, the Supreme Court administrator and spokesperson also supervises about 2,000 judges and 25,000 court personnel all over the country. His office at the SC is partly buried in paper works — from SC decisions to administrative cases of erring judges that he has to review. On top of this, he has to go around the country to visit prisoners through the SC’s Justice on Wheels program and be able to monitor happenings at the main office.

His 7 a.m.-to-10 p.m. schedule at work isn’t enough that he brings work home, even as he juggles his time between work and his family. On Saturdays, he turns into Professor Midas, teaching Legal Writing to law students ofCentroEscolarUniversity.

Yet despite his many tasks, Midas doesn’t seem to mind at all. Actually, he is even enjoying his job.

“It’s hard work. I never expected it. It was an on-the-job training. But I’d like to believe that I’ve gotten the hang of it, considering that I’ve been doing this for almost four years. It’s not really very easy but then again, tinanggap mo eh, so panindigan mo,” admits the 43-year-old lawyer.

For him, the job becomes tougher whenever he has to explain to the media a highly technical decision of the Court in such a short period of time.

“Kasi ang media, ang lakas ng tenga niyan eh ‘pag labas pa lang ng desisyon nakakarinig na ‘yan. Ikaw naman, kahahawak mo pa lang ng desisyon, hind mo pa nababasa. But you have to be prepared to answer any question regarding that particular decision. You cannot lie to reporters because they are always researching on the news and asking different sources to validate whatever you’re saying. Kapag maymalikang sinabi o nalaman nila na you have this habit of hiding some facts, twisting facts, or not being candid, they will lose their respect,” explains the Ateneo law graduate.

Midas began his career at the SC as a law clerk for several justices in 1991. Last year, he was about to retire, alongside his mentor and boss, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno. But the latter convinced him to stay longer and apply for a higher position. When the office of the Court Administrator became vacant, Midas, then a deputy court administrator, applied and eventually became the youngest person to get the post.

His job may be challenging and tiring but Midas says all becomes worth it when people he doesn’t even know send him letters or suddenly come up to him and praise him for a job well done.

“Natutuwa ako kasi I get letters from people I don’t know, saying that you’re doing a good job, you explained this decision very well. Kung minsan naglalakad ako sa mall, someone will approach me and say, “Ikaw ba si Atty. Midas? Ang galing galing mong mag explain,’ those little things,” he reveals.

In this 60 Minutes interview, Midas shares more of his challenges at the SC, those carefree days as a student and action-packed years as a basketball player, and his bonsai-making hobby which helps him relax at the end of a long, eventful and tiring day. (Rachel C. Barawid)

STUDENTS AND CAMPUSES BULLETIN (SCB): What is it like being the face of the Supreme Court? What goes with it?
MIDAS P. MARQUEZ (MPM): Hard work. I did not have any formal training on media when I took on the job. It’s not very easy considering that I also happen to be the court administrator, and I have supervision over around 2,000 judges and some 25,000 court personnel. You go around the country, at the same time you monitor what is happening in the Supreme Court for big decisions and events or programs that you have to relay to the media and to the public.


SCB: What was your first big press conference?


MPM: Hindi ko na maalala (laughs)! I’ve always been as truthful as I can be. You cannot lie to media because the reporters are always researching and validating whatever you’re saying.


SCB: Have you ever been caught off-guard by a question?
MPM: In the sense that I was just not expecting that question. But I’ve been with the Court for almost two decades. Kung tungkol lang sa Supreme Court ang itatanong mo sa akin, palagay ko naman I can give you an answer that will satisfy you.

Whenever we announce a decision of the Court, naka-focus lang ako sa desisyon na iyon. You have to be prepared to answer any question regarding that particular decision.

Pero minsan, mga reporters, hindi nila nabasa ‘yung decision na ‘yun, sometimes they ask question na somewhat related to the decision pero hindi talaga part nung decision. Let’s say, it’s a principle of law, as a credible and qualified lawyer, dapat alam mo ‘yun. Not all lawyers may be able to answer questions about the law. Pero ikaw, spokesman ka ng Supreme Court, dapat alam mo lahat. Medyo nagulat lang ako na ‘yung tanong is not about the decision. You have to search for answers while the cameras are focused on you.


SCB: During the announcement of the decision on the Vizconde case, you were shown to say that “the decision doesn’t mean they’re not guilty….’’

MPM: It’s a principle in law that when you’re acquitted on reasonable doubt, it does not mean na hindi ikaw ang gumawa ng krimen na ‘yun. Ang nakakaalam lang nun, ikaw, kasi wala namang ibang nakakita.

Witness Jessica Alfaro was found to be incredible. You do away with the testimony of the supposed eyewitness, ikaw na lang ‘yun saka ‘yung biktima. Kaya ka na-acquit kasi there was no sufficient evidence na ikaw talaga ang gumawa. But it does not necessarily mean that you are innocent. Pero meron din tayong presumption of innocence until you are proven guilty. At ‘yun ang sinasabi ng Webb camp, that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Since they were not proven guilty, they should be considered innocent.

‘Yun ang sinasabi ko. Wala ‘yun doon sa decision. If you walk into a press briefing, lahat ng reporters nandoon, all the newspapers, television and radio networks, hindi naman puwedeng sabihin mo kapag tinanong ng isang reporter “Ang ibig sabihin ba ng desisyon ng Korte Suprema, hindi nila ginawa ‘yun krimen?” Anong sasabihin mo? Wala sa desisyon ‘yun, hindi ako puwede mag-comment? Siguro in the first instance, the reporters will let that go. Kapag tatlo o apat na beses na ganon, baka batuhin ka na ng mga reporter! (laughs) Ano ba ginagawa mo diyan! You have to answer as much as possible. Trabaho mo ‘yan eh. The last thing you want to happen is for a reporter to write something about the decision of the Supreme Court which is not very accurate.


SCB: Do you think being young works to your advantage?


MPM: The only disadvantage of being a young Court Administrator is that there are judges and court officials who are 20 years older than me (laughs)! But you just have to show them respect, and show that what I am doing is right and I am setting an example. Kasi ‘yung mga personal agenda, hidden agenda, kitang-kita ‘yan eh. That’s what I learned in my long years here sa court.


SCB: Do you get to read all these papers on your table?

MPM: I have to because I have to sign all those. Hindi naman puwedeng pipirmahan ko na hindi ko babasahin. Kaya sa gabi minsan aalis ka dito at 9 or 10 p.m. may dala ka pang trabaho, even on weekends. It’s not really very easy but then again, tinanggap mo eh, so panindigan mo.


SCB: Is there a fulfillment from all these?


MPM: Minsan, I get letters from people I don’t know, saying that you’re doing a good job, you explained this decision very well. O kaya minsan may lalapit sa’yo, hihingi ng tulong, isang litigante, kapag pinakinggan mo ‘yung problema niya, wala namangmali, in fact dehado nga siya. So you extend help.

Whenever I have free time, I take my lunches sa mall, then someone will approach you “Ikaw ba si Atty. Midas? Ang galing galing mong mag explain.” Nakakatuwa, okay na ako dun.


SCB: So possible pa kayong magpunta sa mall? Wala bang threat sa safety mo?


MPM: Wala naman akong maling ginagawa eh (laughs). Wala naman akong kaaway eh. Some would say “Yan ang akala mo na wala kang kaaway eh maraming luko-loko diyan.” But I’ve always done this all my life and I don’t think I have to change my lifestyle just because I’m in a higher position, position of more consequences.


Changes in the Bar exam

SCB: What was it like here in the Supreme Court when the Bar exam blast occurred?


MPM: Nakakalungkot talaga ‘yun eh. I think I was the first court official to visit the victims. Ako ‘yung unang humarap sa mga magulang nila. Siyempre hindi mo maalis sa kanila na magalit sa Supreme Court pero kung titignan mo, talagang ang hirap i-control.

Unang una it was outside the perimeter, the controlled area of the Court. At saka mayroon kaming nakuhang video from our videographer, in that area sobrang gulo, sobrang festive ng mga tao nag che-cheering, singing, dancing. Others were holding bouquets of flowers to give to female barristers. Talagang hindi mo akalaing mangyayari ‘yun. And it would be next to impossible to search all of them for grenades. Dun sa video, three minutes before it exploded, may dalawang pulis na dumaan. Five meters away sumabog.


SCB: Are you changing anything with the way you conduct the Bar exams?


MPM: Yes, I think we are seriously considering the Salubong. Pero kasi sayang eh. Ang ganda, ganda. I experienced that eh, natuwa ako kasi Bar exams is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult government exam. For the whole month of September, hindi ka mapakali, talagang nakatutok ka lang diyan sa pag-aaral mo kaya after the last exam, parang woohoo! Tapos may gagawa pa ng ganun. Hindi mo talaga maisip bakit may mga taong makakagawa ng ganun eh.


SCB: Aside from reconsidering the Salubong, what else do you plan to do with the next Bar exams in UST?

MPM: Ang UST mas malaki ‘yun at mas maraming exits and entrances. Mas dispersed siguro ‘yung mga tao, hindi katulad dito kasi Taft Avenue lang kaya dun lang sa dalawang parts ng Taft nag kumpulan. Atsaka ‘yung grounds ng UST, malaki so siguro puwede mo na iscreen lahat ng papasok ng UST, pagkatapos papasok ka na dun sa confined area where the Bar exams will be held. I hope we can have more tightened security measures.


SCB: Did you rank at the Bar exams during your time?

MPM: Ako hindi. Number 11 ako. Di ba hanggang top 10 lang. Tapos lahat kami no. 11 na (laughs)! Seriously, medyo na-disappoint ako because I was expecting. At that time I was already working here as a law clerk when I took the Bar, so I felt I had an advantage.


SCB: Last year, the government had a plan to crack down on non-performing law schools. What’s your take on that?

MPM: That has to be studied carefully, hindi madali ang law school at hindi rin madali magturo ng law. You have to get a core of professors who really know their law and can impart their knowledge to students. I hope it is not considered as a money-making venture kasi pangit naman. Kung talagang for the longest time walang pumapasa from those schools, palagay ko puwede silang bigyan sila ng probation period. ‘Pag wala pa rin, cancel their license.


SCB: To your knowledge, are there many of these non-performing schools?

MPM: I don’t have the data pero maraming eskuwelahan na talagang ang performance sa Bar (exams) napakahina. Marami naman kasing law students na hindi nag-aambisyong maging abugado, ang gusto lang nila, mag graduate ng law so they can get promoted. But if you want to be a lawyer, pass the Bar and practice law. I think we have to be more strict with our law schools.


All in a day’s work

SCB: What would you consider your most difficult day on the job? Would the Bar exams blast count as one?

MPM: Well, dalawa ‘yun trabaho ko. Siguro the most difficult day for me as a spokesperson would be a release of the decision of the court which is highly technical and you have to explain that in layman’s language to the media in a short period of time.

Ang media ang lakas ng tenga niyan. Paglabas pa lang ng desisyon, nakakarining na ‘yan, sir granted na raw, sir denied daw, talo daw si ganito. Ikaw naman, kakahawak mo pa lang ng desisyon, minsan ang main opinion nasa 50 pages, may dissenting opinion ka na 70 pages. Meron ka pang tatlong concurring opinion at separate opinions na 30 to 40 pages. Ang dami nun! Paano mo babasahin ‘yun? Tapos ‘yung cellphone mo, kung hindi nagri-ring, nagte-text. Sir presscon, sir what time, sir interview. Teka lang (laughs)! So how can you read that decision tapos highly technical pa and explain to media in like 30 minutes or one hour. Kasi kapag lumagpas ka ng one hour, two hours, ayaw ka na kausapin ng media, galit na sa’yo.


SCB: Because they have a deadline to meet…

MPM: I understand. That’s why you have to balance all these. ‘Yun ang pinakamahirap para sa akin.


SCB: What about the Vizconde decision?


MPM: Hindi masyadong mahirap kasi it’s a simple principle of law. Criminal law lang ‘yan. Naging mabigat
lang because of the personalities involved. Pero those on privilege communication, undue delegation of power, mga constitutional law, or tax, mga SLEX, increases ng toll rates, naku medyo kailangan basahin ng mabuti ‘yun! Tapos tatanungin ka ng media, SLEX ‘yan, kasama ba diyan ‘yung NLEX, ‘yung Star Toll, di ba? Kapag nakaharap na sa camera hindi mo naman puwedeng sabihin, ay hindi ko alam, sorry. You have to give an answer.


SCB: What about the hardest part of being court administrator?


MPM: I hope you’ve heard about the Justice on Wheels. It’s a bus wherein we have two courts inside the bus. Umiikot ‘yang bus sa iba’t-ibang probinsiya. We started with three, now we have eight. Kasama si Justice Puno diyan at that time. Maraming components — jail decongestion, which means ‘yung mga inmates mare-release kasi ‘yung mga kaso nila made-desisyunan right there and then.

There’s case decongestion, which means ‘yung mga civil cases will be mediated, matatapos na rin right there and then. There’s dialogue with the justice sector, which means dialogue with the court justice tapos ako ‘yung court administrator, ako ‘yung one down niya. Ako dapat ang nakakaalam ng court administration. Ang kasama sa dialogue na ‘yun, chief justice with the court administrator, on the other side would be the judges, court personnel, lawyers, IBP, prosecutors, jail wardens, NGOs, lahat sila. And they can ask anything and everything under the sun about the justice system.  After awhile it gets taxing, it affects you.


SCB: Part of your task is to review the anomalies involving judges?


MPM: That’s right. Eto puro mga admin cases lahat ‘yan (points to a massive pile of papers)!


SCB: Do criticisms of the Supreme Court affect you?


MPM: Not really. We accept criticisms. It makes us better because we hear that, if it’s valid, we address it. Kapag hindi valid, it comes from a polluted source. It’s as simple as that. All these remind us that we have to do our job better. We have to be more efficient, we have to be more effective.
It’s a constant reminder, which to me is good.


SCB: Do you always agree with every decision of the Supreme Court?


MPM: With every decision, di ba may dissenting opinion. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the dissenting opinion is wrong, it just means that these are fairly reasonable views coming from different individuals who are learned in the law. They’re not wrong except that they have difference in opinions, and we will have to respect all these opinions. I may not totally agree with it a hundred percent but because I see the reasonableness, I can justify it.

Many are fast to criticize the decisions of the Court, but have they read the decision? Pupusta ako, hindi! Kasi konti lang ang nagbabasa ng desisyon ng Supreme Court eh di ba. Ang dami dami, even high government officials they are quick to criticize decisions of the Court but in their criticisms, it shows obviously that they have not read it. As a spokesperson, ayoko naman patulan ‘yun, ayoko naman upakan ‘yun na binasa mo ba. Because I speak for the institution, my duty first and foremost is to protect and defend the institution, not to malign other people, government officials. Sa akin basta nadepensahan ko na yung institusyon okay na ako.


Of bonsais and Coke bottles

SCB: Have you always wanted to get into law?

MPM: Not really. I wanted to take up Business Administration but my father was a lawyer. We were five children, I’m the middle child. The first two before me did not go to law school, ‘yung dalawang sumunod sa akin palagay ko hindi rin. So ako na lang ‘yung last chance ng father ko. True enough, when I went to law school parang nakita ko na tuwang-tuwa ang tatay ko eh. At the time, my father wanted me to go to UP but I wanted Ateneo. Sabi ko pinagbigyan na kita that I would enter law school, pagbigyan mo naman ako sa law school na gusto ko (laughs).


SCB: How do you balance your job here in SC with teaching?

MPM: I have been teaching Legal Writing in CEU (CentroEscolarUniversity) every Saturday for the past two years. It is a subject that I know by heart because before I became Court Administrator and spokesperson, I was law clerk for more than a decade, talagang sulat lahat ‘yun.


SCB: How do you relax?

MPM: Ang dami kong bonsai. Kapag weekends, I maintain them. Kapag pinu-prune mo it’s therapeutic.


SCB: How did your bonsai hobby start?

MPM: I was reviewing for the Bar, tapos I was supposed to exchange notes with a classmate sa Cartimar, saPasay. I went to the plant area, sa nurseries, I saw a bonsai, I bought it for P300. I ended up looking at it at home the whole afternoon. Simula nun, ‘yun na ang naging relaxation ko.


SCB: Since you’re always on TV, you’ve become some sort of a celebrity. Do people approach you for autograph/s?


MPM: (Laughs) May nagpapa-picture pa! Kasi ang pino-protektahan ko hindi naman ang image ko, kundi image ng Supreme Court. Kapag sinungitan ko ‘yun, baka sabihin ang sungit naman ng taga Supreme Court na ‘yun. So kailangan nakangiti ka dun. Minsan nagma-mall ako naka-shorts, t-shirt.Sanahindi nila ako makilala (laughs).


SCB: Do you pick your own clothes?


MPM: Wala naman akong stylist (laughs). Hindi namin kaya ‘yun.


SCB: Do you still have time to unwind?


MPM: Pag hindi ko na kaya, tutulog na lang ako, kaya wala akong sleeping problems eh (laughs).


SCB: You collect Coca-Cola items? (Referring to the extensive collection in his office)


MPM: ‘Yan na lang ang mga little escapes ko. On foreign trips, when I see a cute one, I buy.


SCB: How do you spend time with your family?


MPM: Nakita naman nila how I work. My kids are still in high school so siguro nakikita naman nila na para sa bayan ito. They accept it.


SCB: Do you have plans of seeking higher office?

MPM: I’m very much at peace with my present work.


SCB: Kahit tambak ang trabaho niyo?

MPM: (Laughs) Tinanggap ko eh di ba. Kailangan panindigan ‘yan eh. I’ve learned to enjoy it and I can serve my career in my present position.


SCB: Do you still find time for other things, like reading?

MPM: Ako ‘yung type na hindi masyado nag-aaral nung bata eh. I always find myself in the gym, in the basketball court, in the quadrangle, nakikipagsosyalan sa mga tao dun and in the cafeteria kumakain. I never imagined that I would be taking on this job or be a law clerk in the SC na makakapagsulat ng libro. Eh kahit ‘yung mga term paper ko nung college kung kani-kanino ako nagpapatulong (laughs). During my free time, I get to read books na dati hindi ko ma imagine na ginagawa. Ngayon ako pa nagsasabi sa mga justices kung nabasa na nila ganung libro. It’s about the legal stuff, books on the justice systems sa iba’t ibang lugar. More of mga non-fiction.


SCB: Do you watch UAAP games?

MPM: Yung mga UAAP games ng Ateneo as much as possible I try to watch (laughs). ‘Yun na lang ‘yung libangan ko. Nung high school kasi I also played for Ateneo, sa juniors. ‘Yung PBA Commissioner ngayon kasabay ko nung college eh. Nung naging commissioner na siya tumawag siya sa akin sabi niya ‘O Midas, anytime gusto mo manood ng game tawagan mo lang ako, irereserve ko upuan mo katabi ko!’ Hanggang ngayon hindi pa ko nakakanood, matatapos na championship.


SCB: What’s the story behind your necklace?

MPM: Ah eto this is the second or third already. Sabi nila nakaka-increase daw ng blood circulation. ‘Yung unang ganito ko binigay sa akin ng wife ko, so for domestic peace dapat isuot (laughs).